March 2016 - Planning a Trip? Don’t Fall Prey to Online Booking Schemes

Online BookingIf you’re like me, you could probably use a break from the cold and snow about now. A trip somewhere warm and sunny or a family spring-break get-away sounds enticing. But before you jump online to make your travel plans, read the following. It could help you avoid headaches.

Hackers have found a way to intercept online hotel reservations from unsuspecting travelers by creating websites that mimic legitimate hotel websites complete with photos, logos, even similar website addresses. This scheme isn’t new but it is more prevalent than originally thought. A study by the American Hotel & Lodging Association revealed that about 6% of online hotel bookings in 2014, or about 15 million reservations, were bogus.

These schemes pose significant costs to the hotel industry (about $1.3 billion in 2014) and present a host of problems for the consumer:

  • You can arrive at your destination to find you don’t have a reservation or you have one that doesn’t accommodate your specific requests. The hotel can try to accommodate you, but availability may be limited.

  • Your chances of getting a refund are slim since the hotel never received your money in the first place. Your best recourse is to contest the charge with your credit card company.

The problems don’t stop there. You have just provided a con artist with information – name, address, dates you’re expected to be away, even credit card information – that can be used to steal your identity.

To avoid this, use a reputable travel agency or book directly through the hotel whenever possible. If you must book online, be aware that:

  • A general search of hotels near your destination could bring up counterfeit websites – search by specific hotel names instead.

  • Details that could identify a phony website, like inaccurate website addresses, are hard to distinguish on mobile devices; (Note: legitimate hotel websites usually have addresses like (hotelname).com; extra words, numbers or symbols could indicate a fake website).

  • Social media recommendations or emails with offers that sound too good to be true probably are, so delete them.

Happy travels and don’t forget the sunscreen!

As published in the March 2016 issue of the "Clinton Township Newsletter."
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